Creativity in Context: How Limitations Can Help In Creation

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably faced writer’s block with the face of a white sheet of paper, with its thousands of plot possibilities just waiting for you to create them. It’s one of the most infuriating things to charge into, despite having read so many books upon the subject of the craft of writing, it seems one can’t get an intelligent word out without sounding like some monkey with a keyboard. It’s like when you sit in front of a piano with no sheet music, and you’re trying to compose. You’ve got 88 different keys, and a billion ways to put them together to make them sound nice. I may feel like the next Mozart while I’m playing around the keys and the pedals, but I know, if I recorded my messing around, it would be exactly that: a mess.

    That’s what’s wrong with the piece of paper. There are no guidelines, no directions, no nothing. You become a plane that’s taken off, and you don’t even know where you’re going, whether up is down or left is right. Without a tower of communications or a destination, you’ll wander until you run out of gas. Then, of course, you’re frustrated, tired, probably hurt because of how hard you crashed, and, of course, you won’t be ready for the random mangy natives that might spring out from the undergrowth. I’ll end my metaphor there because I think you get my point.

    So where to begin?

It’s the Middle School Science Fair all over again. You need to do it for your science class, and of course, if you’re competitive, you might want a ribbon. But where to begin knowing what to test? You look around at your nearby classmates and already see them laughing about the volcano they’ll do. You don’t want to do a dumb volcano. You’re a middle schooler now. You’re cooler than that. But ideas just don’t come into your head. There are things to consider: size, budget, coolness, but those aren’t very good guidelines because too many possibilities fit them. Most science projects suggested to you were made to work for people your age, meaning possibilities are endless.

Here’s some ways you can begin to narrow things down:

  1. Use someone else’s ideas to fuel your own.

    I’m not talking about plagiarism here, the idea itself still needs to be original, but who says it can’t be inspired? My favorite type of music right now is movie soundtracks, which are brilliant pieces of music based off movie scenes. If you listen to the music itself without the movie, you could think of different scenarios to fit that music. Although the ideas might be somewhat stemmed off the movie because, the fact is, if it’s a space movie, the music will sound like it was made to describe space, there’s really no way around that unless you have a very disconnected imagination. But what happens while the music is playing is up to you, when the picture part of it is taken off.

  2. Stem off the Original

    This is not the same thing as above, though it will sound similar. #1 describes trying to create a completely new idea while using something made by other people. This is more in the realm of the ‘what if’ question. For example, fanfictions are sort of like this. It means, taking some of the original ideas and trying to create something new with it. I still do not mean plagiarism though. It would still have to be something original if you ever wanted a writing to be published, but here’s the idea. During a story, let’s pretend like some 5 characters stopped a bomb from exploding and saved the world from imminent disaster, and this was the original. You read this, and you begin to wonder what would have happened if the bomb had exploded, would humanity have survived? How would their lives be? You would have none of the original characters because they would have died from the bomb, and two, you could make it your own by changing plot, setting, etc. By the end of your writing, it would look nothing like the original, hopefully (unless you made it obvious)

  3. Help Yourself

    Don’t want to be using someone else’s inspiration to help you think? Well, then find something from your own life to help inspire you. Are you a musician? Compose a piece that would fit with what you’re trying to create. Take a favorite object (or an object you made, like if you were a wood-worker, a shelf you made or something) and observe the many details of it. This could work for things made by others too. For example, if you took out a rocking horse you found in your closet, take note of the tiniest details, the blue spots on its hide, the particular curve of the tail that looks like an inflated rotten banana, the way its head is bowed humbly, just barely not touching the chest of the figure. Etc. and it could help you come up with themes and stuff to go with it. If you want to go even farther, create a list of things you’re looking for in the particular object or scene you’re looking at. At a restaurant, ask yourself what a certain decoration reminds you of, where else you could find it, or who it was made for.

  4. Give yourself a Limit

    This limit could be the amount of words you’re allowed to put in, the time spent, or it could be a limit to the vocabulary you can use. For example, the other day, I stumbled across a blog with something called a ‘Wordle’ (here’s her most current one: which is a really good way to limit the amount of words you can use. I found the challenge, stimulating, exciting, and the result was way better than what I usually write. Plus, if you write with a time limit, you might stumble upon some mistakes you make unconsciously while writing. With a time limit, there’s no time to dwell on mistakes, and you have to give yourself more slack on what you write because you can’t waffle during a time limit (if you can waffle, you’ve given yourself too much time). This means common mistakes might be easier to spot. This may be wishful thinking, but try it out.

    Writing with restrictions and little guidelines in mind definitely keeps the mind on track and makes for better quality work. Remember, that trying to ride on creativity is like trying to ride a bull. It hurts like hell, and all you can do is hold onto the horns sometimes, and even then, you might get bucked off. The more tools you have to keep yourself on that bull, the more likely you can keep riding, even if you’re a closet writer like me who can’t even make through a kickball game without breaking her pinkie. Just saying.

    I’m thinking of doing a creativity series, so look forward to next week’s Friday’s Frenzy.

    Talk you Y’all later Buckaroos!



4 thoughts on “Creativity in Context: How Limitations Can Help In Creation

  1. I heard this saying somewhere: “A train is more free in the tracks, than when it derails”. As a principal, I see it in Faith (free-form praying verses, form prayers) and life (a rhythem of work and free time 4 example). So, it is so true. ;)

  2. Pingback: Teasing out a Melodic Line; Melodic Development; Music Composition | kurthartle

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